Before a packed high school auditorium crowd of teammates, fellow students, teachers and family members, Fort Dorchester’s All-American offensive lineman John Simpson announced he would be signing with Clemson on Wednesday afternoon.
Simpson laid out hats from Clemson, Florida and LSU, faking the choice of Florida before grabbing the Clemson hat, much to the delight of the crowd. The 6-4, 300-pound guard says he made his decision over the weekend and withstood a last-minute press by Florida to change his mind.
“Florida and Clemson were so similar on my visits, it just came down to a few small things,” said Simpson, who led the Patriots to a state championship and was picked to play in the Shrine Bowl and the Army All-American game. “It was hard telling Florida no. It was hard telling everybody no. I’m just the kind of guy that has a hard time saying no. I had to make a decision and I feel like I made the right call. This feels good.”
Simpson, the 2015 Post and Courier Lowcountry football player of the year, says Clemson’s family atmosphere was a big selling point. He also developed a strong relationship with offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell and his area recruiter, co-offensive coordinator and Lowcountry native Tony Elliott.
“I know they will take care of me and will make sure I become the man my mother wants me to be,” he said.
Simpson met with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney last Friday at the high school. He says the meeting confirmed all of the things he felt about Clemson.
“The same things he told me Friday was the same stuff he’s been telling me every time we talked,” Simpson said. “He’s a great coach. It would be hard to turn my back on a great coach like coach Swinney.”
Fort Dorchester coach Steve LaPrad is happy the recruiting process is over — not for himself but for Simpson.
“He’s such a great kid, unlimited potential,” LaPrad said. “He had a tough time at different times during the process, but he was always very gracious about everything. I’m happy for him. He’s going to be a great college player.”
A couple of former Lowcountry standouts signed Wednesday, as ex-Stratford quarterback Jacob Park signed with Iowa State, and former Goose Creek defensive end Kalen Ritchie signed with Louisiana Tech.
While Simpson was the Lowcountry’s most coveted football recruit, dozens of other high school seniors made their college choices on National Signing Day. Three of Simpson’s teammates — offensive lineman Chris Morales (Newberry), placekicker Riley Rozanski (The Citadel) and running back Datron James (South Carolina State) — signed on Wednesday.
One Fort Dorchester player who did not sign was receiver Diondre Champaigne, who has been a verbal commitment to South Carolina since December. According to LaPrad, Champaigne was asked by USC to attend Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss., but Champaigne and his family were not happy with the decision. LaPrad said Champaigne is exploring other options.
“It’s kind of messy right now, things are up in the air,” LaPrad said.
Ashley Ridge quarterback Steven Duncan signed his national letter of intent with Western Kentucky. Duncan, a 6-5, 230-pounder, received late attention from South Carolina after passing for 2,400 yards and 24 touchdowns, earning second-team All-Lowcountry honors.
After verbally committing to Wake Forest, earlier in the season, Wando’s Johnny Ray changed his mind and eventually signed with UNC Charlotte.
Ray, a 6-3, 250-pound, defensive end, was an All-Lowcountry selection who had a strong finish to his senior season. Ray compiled 34 tackles with nine tackles for loss and four sacks. He had eight quarterback hurries and recovered two fumbles for the Warirors.
“He really came on at the end of the season,” said Wando coach Jimmy Noonan. “He made a ton of plays for us on the defensive side of the ball in the second half of the season.”
Ray said Wake Forest wanted to move him to defensive tackle, but the 49ers seemed to want him to play defensive end.
“If I get in the weight room and I put on a lot of weight then I’ll probably end up at defensive tackle,” Ray said. “The coaches told me that I would start out at defensive and or linebacker and that’s where I feel I’ll be most comfortable. Charlotte just felt like home to me.”
Goose Creek wide receiver Dijon Profit signed with The Citadel, while All-Lowcountry offensive lineman Blake Jeresaty of Bishop England signed his national letter of intent with Wofford.
Wofford also signed Brandon Brown, a 6-1, 225-pounder linebacker from Ashley Ridge, another first-team All-Lowcountry pick. Brown had 133 tackles and played in the North-South All-Star Game.
Charleston Southern inked West Ashley’s All-Lowcountry defensive back, Malik Brown, a 6-0, 188-pounder. Brown played outside linebacker for West Ashley last season, making more than 100 tackles.
Malik Brown’s West Ashley teammate, quarterback Justin Berry, signed with Indiana, while Wildcats receiver T’Qele Holmes signed with Coastal Carolina.
James Island running back Buss Hamilton signed with South Carolina State, along with All-Lowcountry lineman Malcolm Garrett of Cross.
Jeresaty, a 6-2, 290-pounder, also was chosen as a Class AA all-state player for Bishop England.
“Blake is a tough, physical all-state center who is going to shore up the middle for years to come,” Wofford offensive line coach Eric Nash said. “He is a dominant drive blocker who is very quick to get to the second level.”
Profit is a 6-1, 190-pounder who had 50 catches for 775 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior, making honorable-mention All-Lowcountry.
Jeff Hartsell and Andrew Miller contributed to this story.
John Simpson, Fort Dorchester, OL, Clemson
Datron James, Fort Dorchester, RB, South Carolina State
Chris Morales, Fort Dorchester, OL, Newberry
Riley Rozanski, Fort Dorchester, PK, The Citadel
Brandon Brown, Ashley Ridge, LB, Wofford
Steven Duncan, Ashley Ridge, QB, Western Kentucky
Malik Brown, West Ashley, DB, Charleston Southern
Justin Berry, West Ashley, QB, Indiana
T’Qele Holmes, West Ashley, WR, Coastal Carolina
Wade Rouse, West Ashley, OL, Newberry
Johnny Ray, Wando, DE, Charlotte
Bailey Hart, Wando, QB, South Carolina
Tre’ Smalls, Hanahan, LB, North Carolina A&T
Dominique Green, Hanahan, DL, Lenoir-Rhyne
Sam Denmark, Hanahan, WR, Virginia Tech
Dijon Profit, Goose Creek, WR, The Citadel
Quintavis Davis, Goose Creek, DB, Kentucky Christian
Tanner Sineath, Goose Creek, OL, The Citadel
Javon Kinlaw, Goose Creek, DL, Jones Co. (Miss.) Junior College
Norman Hand, Colleton County, DL, Tennessee Tech
Nick Salley, Colleton County, LB/RB, Charleston Southern
Trey Murray, Colleton County, DB, Catawba
Chris Felder, Summerville, RB, Valdosta State
Chandler Farrell, Summerville, OL, South Carolina
Armonte Prioleau, Timberland, DB, Limestone
Kevin McCray, Timberland, OL, Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College
Blake Jeresaty, Bishop England, OL, Wofford
Joseph Sweatt, First Baptist, OL, Wingate
Buss Hamilton, James Island, RB, South Carolina State
Malcolm Garrett, Cross, OL, South Carolina State
Danny Long, Berkeley, OL, Limestone
Keenan Simpson, Cane Bay, RB, Jacksonville U.